Style

Funny, irreverent, somber, scary, sassy, reverent, childlike. I could do on forever with adjectives describing different writing styles. Style is wonderful. It gives stories something extra and distinguishes them from the works of other writers

That is, it’s wonderful as long as the author remembers the huge ‘don’t  that goes with using styl and that is… don’t overdo it because nothing pulls a reader out of a story faster than an identifiable, individual, absolutely wonderful style that’s taken to the max and then beyond.

Think of music, especially hip-hop with it’s driving rhythm and stylized use of language. The words and rhythm that are inherent to the  hip-hop style draw listeners in and focus attention on the story.  But if you had to listen to that rhythm and those words for hour after hour without letup, would you still like it as much? Would you even remember the message in the song? Most people wouldn’t.

So when you find your style… and every writer has one… use it to identify your work but remember that a light touch is enough.

Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

The Science Fiction Genre Part 3

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about world building because Earth Legend, my work in progress takes place on a space ship. The space ship in Earth Legend is intentionally designed to resemble Earth so that when the colonists, who have been in transit for up to a hundred years, reach their destination, they’ll feel comfortable in an Earth-like setting instead of wanting to remain forever on the ship because they’ve gotten used to it. Or, in some cases, lived in it their entire lives.

Because the ship resembles Earth, I hoped not to have to do a lot of world building. Because it’s hard and because I hate worlds that are so fake I’m embarrassed for the writer. I didn’t want to be embarrassed for me.

Where to start? With crops, of course, because it’s the story of a self-sustaining, greenhouse-imitating space ship. So how do you grow crops in a space ship in which gravity is the result of the ship revolving? There’d be gravity on the inside of the outermost skin and that’s where everyone would live. But would you have rain? Rain falls from the sky. In the case of the ship, that’s the middle and there’s no gravity there. So no rain because, without gravity it wouldn’t fall. So how to water crops? And what if the ship stopped spinning for some reason?  Hitting an asteroid. Mechanical problems. Whatever. Can’t have the trees, crops, and everything else fall upwards and suffocate everyone.  So what to do?

It was easy.  I imagined a dirt substitute, a substance that stays put and hold plants tightly, a membrane if you will, through which nutrient-rich water seeps to feed everything. And know what I realized? There already is such a substance or pretty close.  It’s found on many of those rooftop gardens that are now so popular.

So maybe world building isn’t so tough after all.  And maybe the best place to find ideas for other worlds is right here in our own.

 

The Waiting Game

Waiting to hear from an e-publisher may be as bad as waiting to hear from a print publisher.  I just sent Wolf Legend to Samhain Publishing and to The Wild Rose Press.  So now the waiting game begins. They say it’ll be weeks before I hear from them.  Okay, they say it might be a couple months.

I guess I shouldn’t complain.  I wrote for the confession market for many years.  That taught me how to truly wait.  I sometimes waited a year to hear back from them.  Or two.  I can’t remember ever waiting three years, but one year was usual and two happened occasionally.

Not always, of course.  I’d hear from them in two or three weeks if the story I’d submitted fit their current needs.  Once I even got a phone call to say they wanted to use a story immediately and that they’d send the contract ASAP.  That was nice.  But it wasn’t usual.

So now I’m about to find out about e-publishers.  Will I hear in a matter of weeks?  Months?  Or longer?

In the meantime,  I’ll get started on Earth Legend, the last of the Legend trilogy.  And I will try to be patient.

Welcome to the world of publishing.  And waiting.

Second Draft

I read somewhere that most novels go through ten re-writes before being published.  When I read that statistic, I almost quit writing for a more lucrative field, like greeting people at Walmart.

Ten re-writes?  Really?  I still think that’s a bit extreme but that number worked its way around my psyche until I figured something out.  If a story might be re-written ten times, more or less, why not use that fact to my advantage?  So I tried something and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I write the story.  The story.  Not the characters, not the background.  Just the story.  Only when I’m done do I consider what kind of story I’m writing.  Romance?  Mystery?  Thriller?  Mainstream?  After remembering what kind of story I started out to write, I re-read the whole thing and insert what’s needed to make it become the kind of story it should be.

If it’s a romance, then every so often I’ll insert a sentence or two to add a bit of romantic interest.  Occasionally that sentence or two becomes a whole new scene.  Sometimes not.  Whatever the result, those re-written sentences add a subtle something that reminds the reader that this is not just a story, it’s a particular kind of story. This becomes especially true if what you are adding doesn’t contribute to the flow of the story.  Sex scenes.  Car chases. Descriptions without action. Soliloquies.  Background information.

I’ve since learned that many writers do this.  And here I thought I was unique!  I’m not, I’m just one of many writers who learned how to write by writing.

The only caveat to doing this is to not let it take over the book.  Remember that you’re fleshing out a situation, not stopping the action completely.  Usually a sentence or two will do the trick.  If you find you are writing an entire scene, then go back later and make sure you didn’t add too much.

And guess what?  Reading the story that third time to make sure your re-writes were appropriate becomes re-write number three.  And so on, until you stop because if you read it one more time you’ll puke.  And you realize that you’ve gone through the whole thing more times than you’d have thought possible when you put that first sentence on the page and ten re-writes begins to look almost normal.

Defining Genres

In the last few posts I talked about the literary genre.  I find the subject of fiction genres fascinating because so much of what we writers write and who we are as writers is defined by our choice of genre.  We may write without conscious thought of genre but many of our readers categorize our works.  By extension, that category shapes how they see us as people.

So how is a genre defined?  Here are a couple of wiki definitions:

1) A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary techniquetonecontent, or even (as in the case of fiction) length.

2) Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is plot-driven fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.[1] Genre fiction is generally distinguished from literary fictionScreenwriting teacher Robert McKee defines genre conventions as the “specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres.”[2] These conventions, always fluid, are usually implicit, but sometimes are made into explicit requirements by publishers of fiction as a guide to authors seeking publication. There is no consensus as to exactly what the conventions of any genre are, or even what the genres themselves are; assigning of works to genres is to some extent arbitrary and subjective.

I find these definitions interesting because according to one of the definitions, literary fiction isn’t genre fiction.  But writers of literary fiction themselves define their niche as a genre.

So perhaps no definition of genres is written in stone.  Perhaps the definitions… and the genres themselves… are subject to change.  If true, that fact is a good omen for a vibrant writing community.

Guns and 99 Cent Reads

I’ve decided that Americans like their guns and I have the data to back up that claim.  My data, as inconclusive as it may be, is that my novel Wanted Sharpshooter is selling better than any of my other books, even Spirit Legend, the book that was prominent last week in a book blast that sent it to be featured in a dozen blogs.  I admit this is a surprise to me.

Why has it  happened?  I have a thought.  Just a thought.  If you check out Wanted Sharpshooter, you’ll see that the cover features a guy with a rifle and he’s ready to fire it.  Both the guy and the rifle are prominent and can’t possibly be missed.  Both man and gun are dangerous.  The book sells for 99 cents.

Conclusion?  We Americans like our guns and I suspect we aren’t the only people who do. And I know that people everywhere also like a good, inexpensive story to read.  So perhaps Wanted Sharpshooter fulfills both desires?

As far as guns go, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.  But when my dad died, our inheritance was guns.  Growing up, he repeatedly reminded us that guns are capable of killing people and you must remember that every single time you so much as touch one.

Books can be equally dangerous, though in a different way.  Words have the potential to change the world.  Not the books I write, they are for enjoyment and relaxation.  But both words and bullets are extremely potent weapons.

And a good, affordable story is a well-deserved treat.